Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gone, but Not Forgotten

The folks that ordered this rocking chair finally came by the shop to pick it up.  It's been a few weeks since I completed it, and could have delivered it to them the next day, but picking it up was their preference, and the fellow is a shokunin himself and has a truck.  He wrapped it with cardboard, even carried it out of the shop, leaving me feeling odd and thinking it was a first for that.  I would have used moving blankets.  Only the next town south where his residence is, but it saved me some effort.  I never did see the location where the chair would be used, something that always interests me.  Japanese houses of a certain period do tend to be alike, so I can easily imagine.

The Cherry wood turned out quite attractive with the Egoma or sometimes called Perilla oil that I now mainly use for my finishing.  It does bring out a lot of color, and is quite a strong finish for a natural oil, something that is desirable in our relatively high humidity environment during certain times of the year.   The back support laths are made from a wood called Sen, and having the highly figured fiddle pattern is not uncommon with the species.  It is sometimes mistakenly referred to as a type of Japanese Ash, having a similar color and grain, but being an unrelated species.   The design I am pretty pleased with, though I am continuing my attempts to lighten up the chair with the current edition that is presently in the works, this time made from Chestnut, a wood that I have been using a lot of recently.  There was an earlier comment that the Windsor type side stretcher is not needed for strength,  and perhaps within that thought is also the possibility that it is incongruous with the rest of the design?  At this point I don't mind it, more think that it adds a small element of interest.  I enjoy seeing something on a chair that touches with earlier eras, when the overall concept may be of a contemporary nature.  The illustrious history of chair design evolution speaks a lot to me.

The rocking chair origin can only be traced back to North America during the early 18th century, though rocking cradles appeared much earlier, as is evident in paintings.  This type chair soon appeared in Great Britain shortly there after.  Perhaps one of the very few examples of early American made chair design influencing Great Britain, if that really was the case.  Few if any of the original makers saw the chair as something requiring further thought as to design, based on the fact that the chair had blades on the bottom and was meant to move.  Regular chairs were simply made with the usual straight legs shortened, to which the curved blades were attached, something that is still quite commonly done today.  I have done a number of them that way as well myself, but something always bothered me about what often appears as a rather stiff form stuck onto curves.  It is as if the chair has a case of rigor mortis!   To my mind, designing a complete chair where the form can carry through from and to the curvilinear parts on the bottom, and it also has some visual cohesiveness with the movement aspect, it makes more sense.  My rocking chairs over the more recent years, without the blades, there would be no safe way to sit in them without the risk of crashing over backwards or forwards.  In the lesser completed form, certainly not a gentleman's chair, or something acceptable to a lady that might easily become flustered!   I think of chairs as offering the place for the input of a great amount of subtlety, depending on the intended manner of use and location, and from that gives the possibilities of great practical seating.  It is something to hold the interest of the craftsman woodworker throughout a lifetime of work.

Some folks have asked me to post photos of the completed chair, and I welcome any comments.  Thanks for viewing my blog.


Chris Hall said...


gorgeous result! The crest rail really seems to bring it all together.

Chris Hall said...

Curious too about the Perilla oil - we're growing a bit of it in the garden, and I like making pesto from it but hadn't thought of it as a finishing oil base. Do you make it or buy it?

djy said...

Hi Chris,

Thanks a lot for the comment on the looks of the chair, I'm glad that you like it.

When working on a new chair design, it is often the case that coming up with a crest rail that I like, is the part that gives me a good share of trouble. Often I will end up spending a lot of time in the search for that one detail. It tends to be one of the latter things that needs to be accomplished, and I usually don't much look forward to getting to that part of the work, anticipating difficulty. I wouldn't mind delegating it to a competent assistant, if one were about.

You ask about the Perilla oil.....
My source for it is an company in Osaka that processes the seeds to obtain the oil. They might be the only one producing it here for the woodwork application. Their direct price tends to be a bit higher than other retailers carrying it, but I have spoken with a Mr. Ohta, a number of times, the fellow that owns the company. Nice guy, and he says that he obtains the seeds from China, pretty much the only viable source for them today. With a growing worldwide interest in the oil for health giving benefits, probably much lesser so for use as a wood finish, given the fairly limited source for the seeds, the cost has been shooting up there.

I've been using it for a number of years, mostly in the 100% oil form, but I guess it was last year when it became available with a dryer in it as well. I called them up to suggest it, and he said that the dryer type was just about to hit the market, and kindly sent a sample. I like it with the dryer, more frequent applications within a time period and it seems to build up a sheen better, something I like. I dilute the initial applications with mineral spirits or turpentine, and then go heavier with subsequent coats. It's great stuff, about the only pure oil that I have found suitable for table tops as well. There is something very rich about it, so I hope it continues to be available.

Have you ever seen or heard of it being marketed in the states? It occurs that it might be possible to import it, without the dryer there is no petroleum distillate content, and also perhaps very little of it with the dryer included, it might not be enough to be considered a hazardous shipment? The dissuading factor might be cost, given the shipping. Purchasing four liters is around 21,000 yen, 16 liters will give a better price per liter. No shelf life concern that I have found, as long as you decant it into smaller bottles that allow squeezing out the air. Let me know if you need any additional information. From your garden would be an ultimate, I suppose, if you could possibly obtain enough seeds, and be able to do the processing.


Chris Hall said...

Yeah, where are those competent assistants these days?

Thanks for the info on the oil. I'll look into it a little further. Seems like it doesn't darken the wood too much...


djy said...

No, I wouldn't say that the Perilla oil particularly darkens the wood beyond what might be anticipated with another finishing oil, like Tung oil. I bet Bubinga would look very nice with it applied, and you could pound on your jungle drum to relieve the stress of working with it while it is drying. An interesting thing about it is after your final application before considering the piece completed, if you can wait six months and have access to the work for one final coat, the shine really comes up nice. Probably something to do with the earlier applications completely drying and becoming hard, and possibly some changes with the pores in the wood. Ever notice how the wood seems to 'relax' (for lack of a better word), after a period of time? Easy maintenance for the person using the furniture by applying from time to time, but alas, such initial aspirations seem to often drift off somewhere and become lost. England was a good place to see furniture well maintained, I recall. Some quite old tables look like a mirror on the surface, via use and care. I don't know that I have ever seen anything like it elsewhere.

It would be cool if you could find an accessible source for the oil. I have used many different finishing oils and blends, and this one seems to best satisfy my hopes. We should maybe one day talk about finishing as another trade, separate from woodworking. Isn't that how it should best be looked at, as in days of old? A good finish takes time, is what I find. As Yogi astutely pointed out, "It ain't over till it's over", and that can mean lots of oil and lots of rubbing, plus the drying.

Mostly it's the case over here that people become self employed before they might learn to become competent assistants. I no longer even get the thirty or forty year old salary men enquiring if I might help provide them with a change of lifestyle miracle.

Chris Hall said...

" I no longer even get the thirty or forty year old salary men enquiring if I might help provide them with a change of lifestyle miracle."

I get an inquiry along those lines every couple of months or so, often from people in the IT world, and after I tell them about the "path to starvation" - I mean woodworking life - most are not heard from again. Alternatively, I hear from people able and willing to come and work with me, people who would probably be an asset, and I have not enough work on the go to offer them anything...

On the topic of finishing - one of the weakest parts of my game, admittedly - I tried some whey-based finish a few months back that would be great on lighter colored woods. Each coat dries in two hours, which is a good point.


djy said...

It maybe helps to have some standard in mind when finishing. A good French polish job in Great Britain was inspiring, and urushi is about the nicest I have seen in terms of a luster and being a warm appearance at the same time, something uncanny about the effect. If it didn't also impart a lot of color, I would think of it as the ultimate. I try to get a similar result with oil, though it generally falls a bit short, and without maintenance isn't so lasting. A couple coats of oil tossed on then wiped off, I don't see as satisfactory,. I think it more takes working it into the wood and further polishing to highlight. No given as to the number of applications required to build, until you get the results that you have hoped for, or are about to pass out. There is no end to it really, and one of the things that I feel is great about wood, the more you put into it, the more it will give back.

I get a fair number of enquiries about my finishing, and i think the best advice one can give, is to say to have the wood in the nicest possible condition, before thinking to finish. I like to blow out any dust in the pores, and first polish with a soft dry cloth until the wood glows and is very smooth and soft..